Literature

The Great Derangement: On fiction and climate change

February 15, 2017
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The Great Derangement: On fiction and climate change

From Lawrence Lenhart’s  recent review of The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, at the Rumpus: The largest section of The Great Derangement examines “Story” (the consignment and suppression of literary forms), but Ghosh also looks at the impact of alternate histories and global politics on climate change discourse. He wags his finger at those who would blame Indian and Chinese modernization for bringing us to the tipping point; instead he points to western idealism and technophilia that created the myth that everyone can have two cars, a washing machine, and refrigerator, when in fact “modernity can only be practiced by a small minority of the world’s population… not because of technical or economic limitations but because the earth would asphyxiate in the process.” What’s more, Ghosh directs our attention to the irony that “the Anthropocene has reversed the temporal order of modernity: those at the margins,” Tuvaluans and southern Bangladeshis for example, “are now the first to experience the future that awaits all of us.” Elsewhere Ghosh takes exception to John Updike’s description of the novel as an “individual moral adventure.” This conception makes us more likely to tell stories about the fall of the Berlin Wall or the . . .

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RIP Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)

February 9, 2017
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RIP Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)

Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)—literary theorist, intellectual historian, and philosopher—died earlier this week; in particularly uncanny circumstances, our free e-book of the month happens to be his The Fear of Barbarians. Rather than link to an obit, we’re going to reblog a conversation between Todorov and media scholar WJT Mitchell—who had never met in person or previously exchanged correspondence—that unfolded over three days on our blog, back in December 2010, on the heels of the then-recent publications of Barbarians and Mitchell’s Cloning Terror. Little more than six years ago, and the topics they discuss—the politics of occupation, the war on terror, the then-emergent Wikileaks, Goya, the US State Department’s penchant for torture, Guantanamo, cloning—feel both like prescient observations from a time now past, and nearly enraging in their unfortunate contemporaneity. Below, you’ll find links to Parts II and III. Download your free copy of The Fear of Barbarians here. ** We’re kicking things off with a series of letters between Tzvetan Todorov, author of The Fear of Barbarians: Beyond the Clash of Civilizations and W. J. T. Mitchell, author of Cloning Terror: The War of Images, 9/11 to the Present on the visual imagery of the war on terror, our current global political climate, and the role of . . .

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Alice Kaplan on the origins of “Meursault”

February 8, 2017
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Alice Kaplan on the origins of “Meursault”

Meursault, the protagonist (or anti-hero) of Albert Camus’s The Stranger, is one of literature’s all-time classic characters—a French-Algerian, emotionally detached drifter who murders an Arab in a griefless rage. Below, Alice Kaplan, author of the National Book Critics Circle-nominated Looking for The Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic, writes at Wonders and Marvels on the origins of the character’s name, and her theory as to why Camus picked the epithet he did. *** For any French reader, that name can only signify the delicious and expensive white Burgundy wine. I was really shocked when I looked at the only surviving manuscript of The Stranger and discovered that Camus writes his character’s name without a “u” throughout. Where did that “u” come from? Some Camus experts claim he thought of the name change at a dinner party where he was served an especially good bottle of the Burgundy wine. Then there’s the story of the contest. Every November, a literary prize of 3,000 bottles of Meursault wine was awarded to a book celebrating the glory of the land. An ad for the prize appeared in the French press in November, 1941, as Camus was putting finishing touches on his novel. Although Meursault isn’t a very funny . . .

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Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger is an NBCC Award finalist

January 18, 2017
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Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger is an NBCC Award finalist

Congrats to Alice Kaplan, the John M. Musser chair in French literature at Yale University, whose most recent book Looking for The Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic, was named a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. The honor is nothing new for Kaplan—two of her previous books, The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach (which was also nominated for a National Book Award) and French Lessons: A Memoir, were also finalists, in the general nonfiction and autobiography/biography categories. The National Book Critics Circle awards, selected by a rotating group of rotating professional book review editors and critics, “honor the best literature published in the United States in six categories—autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.” Stay tuned: winners will be announced on March 16, 2017, in a ceremony at the New School. To read more about Looking for The Stranger, click here. . . .

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The New Yorker on The Daily Henry James

January 6, 2017
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The New Yorker on The Daily Henry James

Below follows an excerpt from a recent profile in the New Yorker about The Daily Henry James: A Year of Quotes from the Work of the Master, first published as a limited edition in 1911, and back for the masses in the new year, with a foreword by Michael Gorra, c/o the University of Chicago Press. Read the original, in full, here. *** In his preface to the New York edition of “Roderick Hudson,” James wrote, “Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw . . . the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so.” In “The Daily Henry James,” relations begin nowhere: the fragments have no connection to one another, and don’t add up to any meaningful narrative. The result is that the book offers Jamesian atmosphere rather than Jamesian plots: flicking through the anthology, you experience the elements that make up James’s novels in the way that you might experience them in real life. You see characters briefly, as at a party or in the street; virtually every page provides an observation on the American character, a description of the grounds of an English country house, a fastidious young man reflecting on the character . . .

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RIP John Berger (1925–2017)

January 4, 2017
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RIP John Berger (1925–2017)

Critic, writer, and playwright John Berger (1925–2017), one of the twentieth century’s most important art critical voices (linking to the Guardian piece, as its the most thorough) died on January 2, 2017. Best known for the four-part BBC series Ways of Seeing (1972) and its accompanying critical text, Berger there offered a Marxist response to another (banal and apolitical) take on the history of culture, also produced by the BBC, Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation (1969). Hyperallergic was first with a tribute, which includes this anecdote: Speaking to Kate Kellaway, Berger explained his interest in labor and social issues. “The connection between the human condition and labour is frequently forgotten, and for me was always so important. At 16, I went down a coal mine in Derbyshire and spent a day on the coal face – just watching the miners. It had a profound effect,” he told her. When she asked how it made him feel. He responded quietly. “Respect. Just respect. There are two kinds. Respect to do with ceremony – what happens when you visit the House of Lords. And a completely different respect associated with danger,” he said. “This is not a prescription for others, but when I look back on my life I think it’s very significant I . . .

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The little reprint that could: Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah

December 23, 2016
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The little reprint that could: Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah

Over at Steve Reads, Steve Donoghue from Open Letters Monthly recently counted down his top ten reprints of the year. Number one? Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah: A Novel, a fictional take on the rise and fall of a mid-century Irish-American politician and the unstable democratic machine that lifted him up and plopped him back down, inspired by the life of notorious Boston mayor James Michael Curley. As Donoghue writes: “The absolutely winning production of this, the best reprint of 2016 includes a rollicking Introduction by Jack Beatty, an understated, smile-inducing new cover design, and of course the main event, O’Connor’s utterly masterful dark comedy of American politics, which is as funny and insightful today as it was the year it was written.” Still time to tuck this one under your menorah, tree, or secular mantelpiece. . . . in the meantime, we’re taking a week’s hiatus—see you on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017. To read more about The Last Hurrah, click here.   . . .

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Big Bosses at the Chicago Tribune

December 19, 2016
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Big Bosses at the Chicago Tribune

From a recent review of Althea McDowell Altemus’s Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir of Jazz Age America, at the Chicago Tribune: This professional typewriter and her trusty typewriter give the reader tales that are of immense social, historical and feminist significance. Of the flagrantly discriminatory hiring practices faced by female job seekers, she writes, “Whatever crime it is for a woman … to wish to earn her own living and keep her child with her, I do not know — but crime it seems to be.” Yet so, too, are her tales dishy, witty and a ton of fun. Of one of the many decadent poolside parties Deering threw at Vizcaya, Altemus writes, “Only the tropic moon could ever know what the philanderers and their filomels found so satisfying in this pool and even romantic moonlight couldn’t penetrate the awning roofed cabanas in the pines.” Her situation — a bright, driven woman required by circumstance to support herself financially — was not atypical. But her famous employers were, including such men as Samuel Insull, president of Chicago Edison; New York banker S.W. Straus; real estate developer Fred F. French; a Swiss architect; and a jeweler whose primary clients were prostitutes. In doing . . .

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Out of the Wreck I Rise on Weekend Edition

December 14, 2016
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Out of the Wreck I Rise on Weekend Edition

Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader, editors of Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery, recently sat down with the hosts of NPR’s Weekend Edition to discuss their pathbreaking anthology, which makes use of the longstanding and complicated relationship between creativity and addiction to offer a resource for the seventeen million plus adults living afflicted in the United States alone. *** From the transcript: SIMON (host): Let me ask you, Neil, what’s the thinking behind this anthology? STEINBERG: Recovery is difficult. And it’s hard enough just chemically giving up the substance you crave, but it’s also hard intellectually and emotionally.           You’re giving up something you love, and you have to replace it with something. And I wanted to try to replace it with a story, with a narrative that recovery is the path of the hero. And Sara and I try to use that by using quotes from poems and songs and stories and letters from these writers throughout time who faced the same challenge and wrote about it. And the purpose of the book – we call it a companion so that it goes with you and helps you on this very difficult journey. SIMON: . . .

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Mary Cappello at Essay Daily

December 7, 2016
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Mary Cappello at Essay Daily

Below follows an excerpt from a recent interview with Mary Cappello at Essay Daily about Life Breaks In, her exegesis (or, biography) (or, as the subtitle states, “almanack”) of mood, which captures the spirit of associative thinking and lyrical fluency that propels the book. *** Q: How much of mood is like trying to describe the uncanny—or—how important is the uncanny to writing nonfiction? A: I hope you don’t mind if I refer to an interview I carried out around my previous book, Swallow, in which I discuss the importance of the uncanny to my work and to nonfiction generally: http://www.propellermag.com/Fall2011/Cappellofall11.html I think the uncanny is at the heart of literary nonfiction. The places where the real slip-slides with something unrecognizable, where the familiar and the strange switch places. Cognitive dissonance. Home not home. The pleasure and necessity of altered states. At the risk of sounding psycho, I’d like to use the occasion of your question to try to put into words an “episode” I experienced in these days following the 2016 presidential election for the way it speaks to the alteration of the “real” as some of us know it. What Freud says about the uncanny is that, when we’re in its midst, there’s . . .

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